Veteran AAP political reporter Don Woolford has been tasked with addressing the issue of weasel words – and produced a
splendid compilation of some of the year’s best.

“If there’s one thing both sides of
politics agrees on, it’s never use a simple word when there’s a polysyllabic
alternative, preferably one of little meaning,” he says.

In just the last week of Parliament he
found two splendid examples: Trade Minister Mark Vaile on beef: “We have
continued with our objective of creating and sustaining an economic environment
that is conducive to developing and growing these industries and in particular
their competitiveness internationally.” And Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
on the East Asia summit: “This is an important development in the evolution of
the architecture of the … region.”

Woolford declares: “Perhaps the most loved
all-purpose word is appropriate. Its beauty is two-fold: it’s a classic weasel
word in that all meaning has been sucked from it, and it can be used positively
and negatively. Try substituting expedient, or ‘it won’t get me into trouble’,”
he suggests.

Then there’s “in the national interest.” “Try
substituting ‘in my political interest’,” we’re urged.

However, the year’s “most sinister
linguistic development – not new, but more pervasive has been the government’s use of Orwellian
phrases to describe its legislation, particularly measures it knows will be
contentious.”

WorkChoices, Woolford says, has been widely
noted. He picks some other examples:

Electoral Integrity is the title of a bill
that will prevent some people voting and encourage mates to donate more
generously to political parties.

Promoting Safer Workplaces is actually a
bill to protect executives in the government and its agencies from being
charged under state or territory law with industrial manslaughter, no matter
how negligent someone may have been.

The Radioactive Waste Management bill
seems to have a neutral title. But its point is to allow the government to dump
waste in the Northern Territory, even though the territory is dead against it.

And he finishes with a pre-emptive strike.
“There’s a phrase that’s used in the security agencies but hasn’t yet become
political language. It’s coercive interrogation. Most people would call its
more extreme forms torture.”

Peter Fray

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